The Case for Wasting Money by Ordering Lunch Every Day

The Case for Wasting Money by Ordering Lunch Every Day
Photo: wissanustock, Shutterstock

I ran across this chart from Reddit’s Dataisbeautiful subreddit recently, and it got me thinking about the economics of working and lunching. Redditor ar243’s chart plots the cost of a midday meal eaten at a restaurant vs. a delivered lunch, so you can determine whether your wages and your lunch choices result in it being cheaper to work one less hour and go out for lunch, or cheaper to get lunch delivered and work that extra hour.

The graph estimates a 50% extra cost in delivery fees, although that number would depend on where you live, what delivery service you use, how much you tip, etc. The chart also assumes that you are paid hourly but you don’t get a paid meal break, and that you have the option of working an extra hour if you choose, (or eating lunch at all, for that matter). So it’s not the most universal graph ever made, but it’s a starting point, and it got me looking for some better lunch data charts and calculators.

This little lunch-cost calculator, for example, analyses how much you’ll save over time by eschewing restaurant lunches in favour of paper-bagging it. It also tells you how much you would earn if you invested your lunch-money savings over 20 years. It even spits out a handy bar graph so you can better visualise your prudent financial choices.

Like you, I already knew this. Whether it’s delivered or purchased at a restaurant, buying lunch at work is a bad idea economically. There is no shortage of sensible advice on the internet (and this site) about how much money you can save by making your own lunch. Or how much money and time you can save by making your food in bulk. And there’s definitely no shortage of internet commenters to tell you what a tool you are for wasting your cash on expensive restaurant meals.

I can’t argue with any of these points — but I’m not doing it. I’m not going to bring my own lunch to work. Even when the savings are presented to me in a colourful bar graph, I do not want to eat a homemade lunch in the break room. (If there ever is a break room again. I work from home because of the plague, so this is all based on past experience.) I’m just too lazy to make lunch in the morning. I’ve accepted that about myself.

I’m definitely not going to bulk-prepare anything. That requires a kind of optimism I can’t relate to. How do I know I’ll even be around at the end of the week? What if I get hit by a train on Tuesday morning? That’s four days worth of brown rice and lentils, wasted!

Look, I know I’m being overcharged for a Caesar salad I could have whipped together at home, but I don’t like thinking about money, least of all in that cents-and-dollars way where I’m calculating how I could save $4 a day by drinking bitter dregs from the office coffee machine instead of going out for a latte.

Going out for lunch at work is great — if you can reasonably afford it — because it lets you get the hell out of there, and that’s worth the expense. (If you can’t afford it or you do like thinking about money in a cents-and-dollars way, I encourage you to take that responsible bulk-prepared, pre-packed lunch of yours to the park — you deserve to get the hell out of there, too). Even if I really like my job, I still need a break in the middle of the day to remind myself that the outside world still exists.

It doesn’t matter what kind of “break room” my jobs have offered: From the seedy, ashtray-stinking backroom of the music store I worked at when I was 16, to the trying-to-be-friendly-and-cool cafeteria of the last corporate gig I had, break rooms are an extension of the workplace, and are therefore intrinsically un-fun. I am looking to have a tiny bit of fun during my day.

So call me an idiot, if you will. Tell me how much better my life would be if I saved $56 a week by bulk-cooking homemade falafel to reheat in the break room microwave. I’m going to keep blowing my paycheck on work lunches — and if you can afford it, you should give it a try, too.

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